Mobile Broadband Internet Providers
Mobile broadband internet transmits data through radio waves from cellular towers to deliver an internet signal without using cables. This type of internet is labeled ‘mobile’ because it is wireless, therefore portable in nature. A user must have a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet with cellular capabilities or a portable modem, such as a USB modem to access the internet.
Who is it best for?
Mobile broadband internet is best for internet users, such as professionals or students, who need access to the internet on the go. It is also a good option for people who have limited wired internet access at their homes but do have a strong cellular signal. Coverage varies area to area, but a 4G mobile broadband connection is enough to support light internet use, such as checking emails or browsing the web.
Pros and Cons of mobile broadband internet
- Portable, wireless internet access
- Same-day setup
- Smaller data caps
- Higher latency
How many mobile internet providers are there?
As of 2020, there are 52 mobile providers offering 3G, 4G, LTE, and 5G connectivity in the United States. The largest nationwide mobile providers as measured by coverage area are AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless.
Mobile Internet Providers in the USA
There are four major mobile providers that are well known throughout the country, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular, but there are dozens of smaller providers that can sometimes offer lower costing service in certain areas.
Mobile broadband is capable of supporting 1-2 light internet users at a time, but it is not yet capable of supporting homes or businesses. For example, streaming and other activities that demand high speed and large amounts of data are not recommended on mobile networks, which often place small data caps on users to limit network congestion.
As of 2020, all four of the biggest mobile broadband providers in the United States have launched 5G services. While coverage is still very limited, it will expand across the nation. It is expected that 5G technology may offer speed and performance that could match or even exceed wired broadband services.
For more technical specs on mobile Broadband technology, see our guide to Mobile Broadband Internet.
Mobile Broadband Speeds
Mobile or cellular broadband can be broadly categorized into four categories: 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G. Despite the recent emergence of 5G, 4G LTE is still the current standard used on most smartphone plans. LTE stands for “Long Term Evolution,” signifying that mobile broadband standards are continually evolving every year.
|Average Speed Range
|Latency (in milliseconds)
|50 Kbps – 2 Mbps
What mobile broadband plans are currently available?
Mobile broadband providers in the US offer a wide variety of plans, each with varying prices, coverage, and capabilities. Plans can be customized to fit your lifestyle. For example, family plans, international plans, pay-as-you-go plans, shared data plans, and more are available.
What stands out about mobile broadband plans are the strict data caps. Unlike traditional residential internet, mobile providers often offer data plans with less than 100 GB/month. Most big providers, such as T-Mobile and AT&T, offer a handful of premium plans that include unlimited data. Extra features, such as unlimited talk, text, and access to streaming services, are also part of some mobile broadband plans.
Speeds are generally the same as most mobile broadband plans offer 4G LTE, but there are plans offering slower speeds available for lower costs in certain areas. Contracts are also included and may require early termination fees for ending service prematurely.
What technologies are used for mobile broadband in the USA?
The two global standards for delivering mobile broadband service to a device are technologies known as CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobiles).
These competing technologies are used by different carriers and devices. CDMA and GSM differ in how the device connects to the carrier, how voice data is transmitted, the level of coverage, security, and other factors. GSM networks are more widely used on an international scale than CDMA.
Another key difference is that GSM networks use SIM cards while CDMA networks do not require a SIM since the hardware is built specifically for the CDMA network (though devices built to be on an LTE network will have a SIM regardless).
When purchasing a mobile device, such as a mobile hotspot, tablet with cellular capabilities, or smartphone, check whether it is CDMA or GSM. If you buy a CDMA device that does not have a slot for a SIM card, you will not be able to change to another network should the need arise without buying a new device, and you will likely not be able to use your device if you travel internationally.
The most popular GSM carriers are T-Mobile and AT&T. Verizon once was the biggest CDMA carrier in the US, but as of 2020, they are retiring their CDMA network to transition to a 4G and 5G network.
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